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There is a changing of the guard underway in girls' long-distance track in the North Bay League.

The vanguard of this change — freshman Delaney White of Santa Rosa, sophomore Andrea Natoli of Maria Carrillo and freshman Saskia Van Ommeren-Egberts of Casa Grande — displayed their formidable abilities competing head-to-head on Wednesday in an NBL triangular meet at Maria Carrillo.

The 1600-meter race was the prime event featuring the trio, arguably the top three girls distance track runners in the Redwood Empire. White won (5:20.31), Van Ommeren-Egberts finished second (5:23.40) and Natoli placed third (5:30.09). It was a tight race for the first three laps before White pulled away in the fourth and final lap to win relatively easy.

"The whole plan was to draft behind Andrea," White said. "I don't race smart so my coaches and I have been trying to figure out strategies to race smarter."

The drafting strategy worked. Natoli led White by a few strides for the first three laps before White seized the final lap with a jolt of energy. Natoli had no reserve left for the final lap.

"I made a mental mistake. I thought the third lap was the final lap," Natoli said. "I used my kick in the third lap instead of the final lap."

Van Ommeren-Egberts also overtook the spent Natoli in the final lap, finishing second.

"I was just trying to stay with them (White and Natoli)," Van Ommeren-Egberts said. "I think we all had fun out there."

Without hesitation, all three runners said they are friends and that they welcomed the tough competition between them. Their friendship, camaraderie and healthy rivalry was on display at the finishing area of the 1600-meter race as the three girls hugged and White and Van Ommeren-Egberts consoled Natoli, who was visibly upset by her third-place finish due to the lap miscalculation.

"We always hug each other and tell each other we did a great job," Van Ommeren-Egberts said. "At the races we are all friendly with each other but during the race we are always trying to win."

"Both (Andrea and Saskia) are wonderful people. I love having them as competitors and friends," White said. "It's nice to know you are not hated by your competitors."

There was also a consensus among the coaches at Wednesday's meet that the trio follows a long tradition of outstanding girls distance runners in the Redwood Empire.

"It is going to be fun for our area to watch these three over the next few years as they push each other," Santa Rosa coach Doug Courtemarche said. "The Redwood Empire and NBL have always been strong in girls distance races so they are just carrying on the legacy."

The trio ran cross-country in the fall with White and Natoli having an edge on Van Ommeren-Egberts. The gap between the three has closed for the long-distance track races, according to Casa coach Jamie Pugh.

"I think all three are good and all are young. I think the surprise is Saskia," Pugh said. "She didn't think she could run with the two of them, but now she knows that she can."

One key component for these young runners is their willingness to learn from their more experienced junior and senior teammates. The older mentors, such as Casa senior Ashley Moffett and Maria Carrillo senior Brynna Thigpen, help the younger runners with the technical aspects of running as well as with the mental components of competition.

"Andrea's cross-country season wasn't what she expected so I tried to help her through it," Thigpen said. "I tried to listen to her and give her advice when she needed it."

Pumas long-distance coach Michael Pointer said the mentoring from Thigpen has indeed helped Natoli.

"Andrea puts a lot of pressure on herself. When her head is clear she can run a great race," Pointer said. "Brynna has been helping her relax."

As for White, who has previously recorded a 1600-meter mark that is in the girls' top 10 all-time in the Panthers' long track history, her confidence will no doubt grow as the NBL season wears on and she compiles victories and accolades.

"Staying focused and believing in myself has been a problem but the older runners are helping me on that," White said. "When I get out there on the track starting line, I have more confidence in myself. I realize that I'm good here, that this is my comfort zone."